March 27, 2011

Gus Schulenburg is awesome (and you can too!)

Gus Schulenburg of Flux Theatre Ensemble made a post about Tulpa, or Anne&Me that reminds me why I love having him in my audience. While good reviews and full houses are great, what really excited me as a writer are the responses of thoughtful, engaged audience members - even if it's an audience of one. C'mon, look at this!

Tulpa, or Anne & Me suggests that we often see tulpas – creations of [our] own unconscious fears and desires - instead of the real flesh and blood human beings in front of us. To exorcise those spirits, we must be willing to really listen, take full ownership of our actions, and not turn away when we dig up the mandrakes of our souls.

That goes way beyond the thumbs up/thumbs down type of thing that so often passes for theatre criticism (which often read like consumer reports). Read the whole thing here.

March 21, 2011

"Tulpa" needs YOU!

A while back, I announced that Tulpa, or Anne&Me is getting a staged reading at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity this June.

I'm really grateful for everyone who's stuck by me through Tulpa's journey to this amazing opportunity. Your support has played a big part in keeping me focused and giving me the courage to move forward with this quirky little play. But to make this worthwhile, we need help.

We're trying to raise $1,000 for the event in order to cover the costs of production - the biggest one being rehearsal space and paying the artists a small stipend. Check out our IndieGoGo campaign for a better idea of what we're doing and why this stage is so important.

I did the math on this, and it's very doable. If we can get just 50 people to contribute only $20, we can meet our goal. All I'm asking is that if you can spare it, I'd really appreciate it (and you'll get a thanks from me). And if there is just one other person - just one person - you know who'd be willing to support Tulpa, or Anne&Me, please spread the word and let them know about it. It might not look or sound like much, but it does add up.

Thank you so much for being with me through all this. I really owe you one, and I'm going to do my damndest to pay you back.

we toot our horns, but only indoors (on networking as a minority theatre artist)

I am the token black guy. I'm just supposed to smile and stay out of the conversation and say things like: "Damn," "Shit," and "That is whack."
Mariah MacCarthy has an awesome blog post about networking for playwrights. In the comments, I raised the issue of discomfort with self-promotion as a result of a sensibility I've been trained to acquire.

I need to explain that a bit more thoroughly and shed some light on ways to counteract that so that future attempts to include women, people of color, LGBTQ people, etc. don't fall flat when initiated by organizations that aren't specifically by and for us.

If you're a minority (of any kind), when you speak up, when you're passionate, when you're uncompromising about what matters to you, people don't see you as someone who cares deeply about something that matters. They don't see you as a change agent. They see you as uppity, strident, or a bitch. When you express yourself, you're not speaking truth to power; you're whining. You just have an ax to grind or a chip on your shoulder. If you're lucky, you only have to deal with social rejection from one person. If you're unlucky, you put your livelihood at stake. Who wants to take that chance every time they interact with someone?

The messed up thing is that it doesn't happen only when social justice issues get raised. Even being too forthright in mundane conversations elicits this response. If you talk too often or for too long, it can elicit this response. If you interrupt someone to make a point (even if it's warranted), it can elicit this response. So there are all these complex signals you have to make note of before you add your piece to things.

So what happens is that you learn to become hypervigilant about when, where, and how you speak - as well as to whom and what you say. You learn to listen for signs of safety and the invitation to share. I don't mean a simple gap of silence in a conversation so you can just add your two cents. I'm talking about a hint that they really want to hear what you have to say. It's a lot easier to navigate in person, but there are ways to do it online too. Nick Keenan, Adam Thurman, and Adam Szymkowicz have all done something I found really interesting when the discussion was women in the theatrosphere. They told us that they wanted to hear from us, and they let us speak. Keep that in mind because it's very important.

So, networking. I don't know about you, but one of the things I've learned about NYC is that if you want to find people, you have to go where they are. If you're looking to make more connections to women playwrights, playwrights of color, LGBTQ playwrights, and so on, you have to come to where we are. We're not hiding, but we are going to places where they make a space for us. As Nick, Adam, and Adam show, sometimes making that space is as simple as saying, "We want to hear from you."

Of course, I don't mean regurgitating insincere corporatespeak where they put the EEOC disclaimer on a job ad or say the word "diversity" on their website while not having that reflected in the corporate leadership or the corporate culture. In fact, I'm always deeply impressed when someone has the courage to admit, "We've noticed that we're not connected to many playwrights who are [whatever]. How can we improve? This is really important to us, so we really want to hear from you." A very important caveat: the "you" I mention here is not an organization, but individual playwrights.

Thus, our reluctance to toot our own horns is not for lack of something to say, but because every time we play our trumpet outside the neighbors about us disturbing the peace (or even call the cops). Invite us indoors, and we'll play your fucking ears off.

March 19, 2011

QBWL poiesis and Buber's "I and Thou"

I've been working my way through Martin Buber's I and Thou. It is, shall we say, a challenging read, but it's riveting and thought-provoking nonetheless.

In a nutshell, there are two modes of existence: I-It and I-Thou. The I-It mode is bound by connections between things - ie, something as this, that, or the other. The I-Thou mode is a mutual relationship between subjects that are whole in themselves. These are not mutually exclusive; we inhabit both simultaneously.

As I was reading I and Thou, I recognized the ultimate goal of a queer Black womanist liberation poiesis - or, to be frank, the ultimate goal of social justice, period - to increase our capacity for expressing our I-ness and recognizing the You-ness of others.

Let me give you an example. In Tulpa, or Anne&Me, the I-You mode allows [Name] to relate to Anne as Anne instead of Anne only as actress, pretty, celebrity, female homo sapiens, feminist, Caucasian, and so on. At the same time (and this is important!), the I-You mode lets Anne relate to [Name] as [Name] and not just [Name] as web comic artist, African American, introverted, woman, queer, unknown, etc. At its most extreme, all sense of division dissolves, allowing for a relationship like that of Chuang Tzu and the butterfly.

In short, the I-You relationship makes it impossible to objectify people and therefore dehumanize them. It completely obliterates the ability to oppress and makes way for real freedom.

Later, I'll talk about the importance of voice to I-You.

March 11, 2011

Save the date: April 9 for Movie FUNraiser

I've been really busy with Crossroads Theatre Project and the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. If you're going to be in town, I'd really like to see you at the staged reading of Tulpa, or Anne&Me. If you've seen it and know some people who should see it too, please tell them - even if you can count them on one hand.

As we're gearing up for the reading, we're planning a FUNraising event to pay for rehearsal space. On the evening of Saturday, April 9 (let's say 8pm), we'll be screening a movie at Houndstooth Pub. The theme for the event will be girl power - movies with women in lead roles who don't need a man to be awesome. We're looking at showing
  1. Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland,
  2. Heathers (starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater), or
  3. Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof.
We'll choose the movie based on which one gets the biggest donation. So even if you can't be there, your vote will count! Simply click on the button below to donate:

Donate now!

Don't worry - this isn't going to be one of those "siddown and shaddup" movie-going experiences. You can laugh, talk at the screen, boo/hiss and otherwise act like a complete groundling with no culture at all.

It's going to be a lot of fun! Where else can you go out and catch a cool movie, drink beer, and meet great people at the same time?

I'd love to see you there and catch up on what you've been up to. Even if you can't be there, your support would mean a lot. Whether it's donating $10 or just letting 5 people know that beer and food and a movie will happen at the same place, every little bit helps, and I appreciate it.

Hope to see you in April (and also in June)!

(By the way, you can visit Off Book Market to get your own copy of Tulpa, or Anne&Me. Quite a few people have some great things to say about it.)

I interview myself

I interview myself about Tulpa, or Anne&Me:

If the video doesn't play, check it out on YouTube.

March 10, 2011

Why do you have to bring [oppression] into it?

CultureBot's Jeremy M. Barker has this to say about politics and playwriting (h/t Parabasis):
Most contemporary plays are very essayistic like this; given the homogeneity of the typical theater artist and audience, we know that a play that starts off about war will have something bad to say about it, that a play that engages with gay issues will be pro-gay. (Someone please name me the last big pro-war or anti-gay play you saw professionally produced.) In this typology, the “narrative,” which is essentially the entire play being produced, exists to narrate a series of points that makes the predictable ending impactful, which we charitably still refer to as catharsis.

I'm getting the weirdest sense of deja vu.

I'm having a bit of trouble understanding what is meant by political. I can't really separate politics from aesthetics because politics has a huge influence on aesthetics. How we define good, beautiful, and true has a lot to do with who holds systemic power.

I can agree that sometimes what we call political theatre can be simplistic and preachy, but that has more to do with the fact that it's simplistic and preachy and not that it's overtly political. It's one reason why I can no longer stomach Tyler Perry's work.

I can understand the limitations of constructing a fictional reality around a specific point of view. But what I'm finding it hard to understand is why it's a problem for artists to claim their own subjectivity, such as Josh does for MilkMilkLemonade or what I do for Tulpa, or Anne&Me.

But Joshua Conkel makes a good point when he responds:
I see his point, but I also resent it a little. I might have written a pro-gay play in MilkMilkLemonade, for example, and I'm sure people know straight away that it's a pro-gay play. That said, I don't think anybody knows from the start of the play exactly WHAT I'm going to say about gayness or HOW exactly I'm going to get there. Just because you know a play will be pro gay before you watch it, doesn't mean that it's pro gayness is a spoiler alert. You still have no idea specifically what the playwright is going to say on the subject or how he/she will take you there.

What I see happening in the Barker quote seems to minimize and devalue such work as being "merely" about issues. It's a very insidious form of erasure. Like Josh, I do find it a tad insulting because it positions the struggles that affect our lives as something inconsequential (or rather, inconsequential compared to its entertainment or aesthetic value). Just as the personal is political, the political is also personal. And since art is, at least initially, very personal, I cannot separate my personal self from my political self from my artistic self. I simply don't have the luxury.

The irony of this sentiment, of course, is that the very people who see themselves as separate from and immune to certain kinds of narratives (and political ones at that - ie, who deserves to be in power) are the ones who consume, benefit from, and perpetuate limited narratives themselves. When a story comes from one's experiences as a woman, a person of color, and/or a queer person (to name but a few things), it's pushing an agenda; it's too political; it's not something people can relate to. Yet somehow, I'm supposed to understand the trials and struggles of the King of England or the founder of Facebook as a universal human experience.

Um, OK. If you say so.

ETA: Barker responded while I was posting this.

March 3, 2011

Crossroads Theatre Project on the web (for real)!

Crossroads Theatre Project now has a website. Check it out here.

Yes, it's ugly. Yes, it's made with a free service (more or less), but it's mine. At the very least, when the site gets updated, you'll have an idea of what's going to be on it.

Next up: making a blog.

March 1, 2011

"Tulpa, or Anne&Me" at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity!!!

Great news! Tulpa, or Anne&Me was selected for a staged reading at the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity this June. Date is pending, but we'll be performing at the Gene Frankel Theatre. If you haven't seen it yet, please check it out. If you have seen it, check it out anyway because quite a bit has changed since the reading last June and in November.

If we can raise $1,000, it would really help us get enough rehearsal time to pull of a polished staged reading. At this phase of production, generous contributions like yours are crucial to finding the best people and spaces to work with. Every little bit - $20, $50, even $100 - helps a lot. You will also be listed on our playbill once we get a date and time for the performance. All you have to do is click the donate button below.

Donate now!

If you can't be there for the reading, you can get your own copy of the script for only $5. Visit Off Book Market to get it today. Quite a few people have some great things to say about it.

Don't forget to pass the collection plate via Twitter and/or a blog post!

updating how i describe "Tulpa, or Anne&Me"

I've revised the way I describe Tulpa, or Anne&Me. Not because it was bad, per se, but because I found a better way to do it. Strangely (or rather, not so strangely), I found my inspiration from how people pitch films.

Here's the new blurb . . .
Tulpa, or Anne&Me is a full-length play about how racism affects our relationships.

Our heroine is a nerdy, introspective, lesbian African American artist whose life gets turned upside down when Anne Hathaway crawls out of her television.

During a series of Anne's surreal visitations, we watch them become good friends, which leads them to really start looking at how race impacts their lives as women, as friends, and as human beings. With the help of two outspoken imaginary friends, she relives feelings and experiences she's kept hidden even from herself, until now. We follow her efforts to express these things to Anne so there can be real intimacy between them. At the same time, we witness Anne struggle to understand where she fits in that process in order to be a true friend and confidante to the heroine.

Throughout the play we are challenged to go beyond the rhetoric and confront race from the truth of who we are.
Am I missing something here?